Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Misconceptions: Common Tongue

"LANGUAGES: The "common tongue" spoken throughout the "continent" is
known by most humans. All other creatures and monsters which can speak have
their own language, although some (20%) also know the common one."

That is the direct quote from Book I: Men and Magic. The "common tongue" has been much maligned, in print as well as my gaming circles. "It doesn't make sense", goes the common refrain, "for all humans to speak a common language. Real life isn't like that." So, a bazillion languages spring up, complete with language trees sporting proto-linguistics, dead languages, ancient forms, and all that. That is a totally acceptable way to breathe life into one's creation, and I'm not criticizing any referee for doing it. My point is that the original authors were not advocating a global language, as the critics would later assert.

Yet, look more closely. The key, over-looked, phrase is "throughout the "continent"". In other words, the basic, local area. That, taken with the fact "common tongue" is in quotes, should be enough to convey the intent. It should be remembered that the D&D of the Little Brown Books did not have a setting attached. It simply was not possible to name a language for humans to speak, so it was simply called "common tongue". It was in quotes, and lower case. If a globe-spanning human language would have been the intent, it would have been written as Common Tongue. If we did want to draw a modern analogy, we could say that English is the "common tongue" of the continent of North America.

It is also worth noting that only 20% of non-humans speak it. So, it is definitely a human "common tongue", which is stated in the rule quote above. It is also "known by most humans", further evidence that the term "common tongue" was used as a matter of convenience, in the absence of a setting-specific language. Continuing the above analogy, English is known by most people of North American descent, with 20% of non-North Americans speaking it (obviously I'm not quoting demographics, just putting the "common tongue" rule into a real-world context).

That's it for the first installment of Misconceptions. I hope you enjoyed it, and that it may give you a new perspective on certain aspects of Original D&D. Thanks for stopping by.

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